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Edward Paul Abbey, the armed environmentalist

Posted on October 21, 2014 in Reviews

Matteo Brogi: Edward Paul Abbey, the armed environmentalist

American, born in 1927 in Pennsylvania, died in 1989 and buried in bare earth in a place known only to his closest friends, Edward Paul Abbey was a man who many have tried to frame in a political party or to bend to their usefulness. I will not do. I respect the memory of those who preceded us and I will only try to make known to my readers his thoughts that, in some respects, meets with our interests.
A lover of nature, of the American West, a staunch defender of the environment from abuse of our consumer society, Abbey has been taken as a model by the radical environmental movement that has generated the so-called eco-terrorists. A right or wrong is not for us to say...
One of his most successful novels, The monkey wrench gang, tells the story of four American citizens who oppose civilization with dynamite and a few shots. A story that has become an inspiration for those movements, that I already accused of usurping the term "environmentalist" who see in nature conservation in itself its reason for being. And that, thanks to the actions theorized by Abbey for the characters of his novel, found a way to revitalize their conventional tools of activism.
The American writer, who was a graduate in philosophy and worked as a ranger in Utah, was well beyond what "environmentalist" movements like. Indeed, he was a free man who did not hesitate to have opinions, even incorrect. His positions on guns, immigration and the status of women were discussed and have been deliberately covered up to give an instrumental vision of him.
Fundamental to illustrate this side of the personality of Abbey there is his The right to arms (1979). Given that the full text of the project is available online here, the reflection of Abbey takes its cue from the consideration that in all the states that have had authoritarian or dictatorial experiences (the Nazi third Reich, the Soviet Union, Iran, South Africa, Chile and Argentina, communist China) possession of weapons has always been monopolized by the state, or at least strictly controlled. What does this mean? Abbey explains it this way: "I'm not a fan of guns. I have a couple of small arms but rarely detach them from the wall. I stopped hunting deer fifteen years ago when hunters began to outnumber the deer themselves. I am a member of the National Rifleman Association. I am a liberal and proud of it. I reject, absolutely, any change that the state could implement to restrict my right to buy, possess or carry a weapon. Whether it's a shotgun, a rifle or a pistol." Simple and direct, in another part of the text Abbey agrees that there should be restrictions on the possession of weapons speaking specifically of children, subjects pathologically unbalanced and convicted criminals but admits to look with great suspicion every effort implemented by the government to control the right to arms. "The registration of firearms - says the author - is the first step toward confiscation. And the confiscation would be the most important and probably fatal step to an authoritarian government." A problem, the intrusiveness of government in the life of the individual, which most worries Abbey; he sees in the rifle the weapon of democracy: "We hope to never have to use our weapons but do not forget what the common people of this nation knew when claimed the bill of rights: an armed citizen is the first defense, the best defense, the final defense against tyranny."
This, of Abbey-thought, many tried to hide. I myself had always framed this author in the ranks of the characters committed "against", misled by some of his statements against the gun lobby and the great American industry which has been emphasized by the American media. General statements are often taken out of context from a blind press, eager to show only what is instrumental in the battle against weapons and their use. Then, a few summers ago, I saw a picture of Abbey attached to the refrigerator of a house in the Montana prairies. A clear photo with a caption: "Uncle Ed caught a 16-inch trophy." In the photo, next to Abbey armed with a shotgun, rather than the trophy of a deer, a television with a 16 inches screen, perfectly hit by a shot. A staged image, almost sophisticated in its simplicity. A manifesto: everything is permitted to defend ourselves from so-called civilization, from the dictatorship of television, from a certain globalization and the distortions of the consumer society. The application of another of the Abbey opinions that are often cited, frequently inappropriately: "A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government." He tried to do it without being approved and respecting his deepest conviction: "the sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul."

The Book
Edward Abbey, I sabotatori, Meridiano Zero, 2001 edition, 15.50

Published in America in 1975, the novel tells the story of a group of four eco-activists, curiously assorted, traveling in the American West and trying to curb the uncontrolled expansion of man. Their work is carried out through acts of sabotage against industrial projects that threaten geographic areas not yet contaminated by human presence. Written for entertainment purposes, as the same Abbey said, the novel has been taken as a model by ecologist movements, almost a manual of guerrilla warfare; the radical Earth First! movement born at the end of the 70s was inspired by this text.

Edward Paul Abbey
Born January 29, 1927 in Indiana, Pennsylvania, he graduated in philosophy at the University of New Mexico. After graduation, he served the American army in the last year of the Second World War with military police tasks, in Naples. In the 50s he began his publishing career; “Jonathan Troy” was his first novel (1954) which was followed by “The brave cowboy” (1956) which was made into the film of the same name starring Kirk Douglas. At the same time he worked as a seasonal ranger for the Park Service at the US Arches National Monument, Utah. Out of this experience he wrote his Desert Solitaire, the autobiographical tale that made him known to the public in 1968. The great literary success smiled on him in 1975 with “The Monkey Wrench Gang”. “Fire on the mountain” in 1962 is the only other title of Abbey of the eight who wrote currently available in Italian language (Meridiano Zero). He died on 14 March 1989. His body was buried by his closest friends in a secret place, probably in the desert of Cabeza Prieta, Arizona.


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